iOS 8 Safari CE Extension

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iOS 8, which releases this fall, will allow extensions to be installed in Safari. I think it would be a great idea if Covenant Eyes could create an extension that would allow all web traffic to be tracked/filtered.
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Jonathan Steele

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  • hopeful

Posted 4 years ago

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John, UX Practitioner

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Hey Jonathan, 

Thanks for taking the time to post here. We are pretty excited about some of the cool stuff that is coming in iOS 8 as well.

Unfortunately the language of "extension" is not quite what it would appear to be. Simply put, Safari on iOS will be allowed to have extensions but those extensions must be manually triggered by the user.

Practically this means that Safari could have an extension in it that you clicked every time you visited any webpage to send a snapshot of the data to our servers.  This would have to be entirely voluntary on the behalf of the user and I am sure you can see why this solution would be incomplete.

The better news is that we have made progress on a device encompassing solution for iOS. I can't predict any sort of timeline for it's release, but it is coming.

Thanks


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John, UX Practitioner

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Hey Guys,

The short answer is, yes!

We are working overtime on the iOS extension and have successfully tested basic functionality internally for some time now. As it turns out there are a LOT of things to polish before it is ready for external use, but we have a target release date of early April. (*target release date, assuming all goes well.) Unlike most projects however we have actually decided to publicly declare when we anticipate the release, so now it is up to our awesome dev team to deliver.

Feel free to check out our official post and sign up to stay in contact by clicking the link below.

http://www.covenanteyes.com/coming-soon-full-device-accountability-for-iphone/

Hang tight guys, it's really coming.

P.S. I apologize for the delay in following up here, my own business aside I let this forum sit unanswered for too long. Thanks for your patience.
(Edited)
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Mike

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That's awesome!  Well done.
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Brian

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Will this new accountability app finally allow the use of safari on our iPhone/iPad and it be monitored/filtered?
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Annelise, Official Rep

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Hello Brian,

Yes, it is our hope that our app will be able to monitor and filter inside of Safari, as well as other apps on your iOS device. It is looking very promising right now as we continue to test the new app internally, and our end goal is to give you the use of Safari back on the iOS devices and still be protected. Thank you so much for your question! 

Best regards,
Annelise
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Shane Christopher

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Can I please be a part of the beta testing?
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Mike

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Any new news?
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aggieben

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"Early April" has come and gone. We all understand that schedules slip, but can we get an update? Are things moving to a release in the near term? Are things a train wreck and should we just abandon all hope and get flip phones? Something in between?
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Annelise, Official Rep

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Hello Aggieben,

Thank you for your inquiry! It's true Early April was our target release date and it is now the middle of April, but do not worry! It is still in production and going through some internal testing right now. We do not have a release date yet, but we hope to soon! Thank you for your patience as our developers work diligently to bring you this exciting new update!

Best regards,
Annelise
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aggieben

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Thanks for responding, Annelise.  I understand a reluctance on the part of the company to nail down a particular release date.  As a software engineer I totally get that.  

However, we're all in this together for the sake of accountability, right?  Part of the problem with being vague about roadmaps and release schedules is that projects can have a way of going on and on and on without ever making it into the hands of the customers.  Would CE be willing to make itself accountable to the community by giving us a slightly narrower timeframe than "soon"?
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John, UX Practitioner

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Hey Aggieben

I wanted to take a second and jump in here with some more details about the development going on here for iOS.  As someone who is directly involved in the project, there are some details that I can provide which will help add some clarity to our ongoing work.

(for the non-devs reading this, the following may appear fairly technical. The short version is, we have come a very long way).

The Completed Steps:

Created a brand new interface that can interact with all network traffic on the iOS device.
Created a brand new engine capable of handling all tcp/ip interactions as requested by the device.
Created a new back-end API to handle device-CE traffic management
Created a brand new Login UI & Experience based off of the new back-end API 
Created a brand new Onboarding UI to allow users easy setup of the new Device-Wide experience
Created a redirect to enforce Sign-In to Covenant Eyes when non-CE apps are used.
Created a circumvention alert & protection system for enforcing Accountability on the device.
Updated the back-end system to handle ICMP and other protocols. 
Contacted Apple about a crippling bug in their packet-handling system, and co-developed a work around.
Created a testing suite to simulate device usage, with the aim at finding and killing network outages.

As you can probably guess from the list above, most of the pieces of the product are now in place. We have some success with a limited internal testing group and truthfully we really hope to have a public beta available "soon". 

The Road Ahead:

The hard part about this particular piece of development is that it is groundbreaking from a technology point of view. The app is "functional" at this point, in that all of the moving pieces are in place and are working. But we have yet to reach a level of polish where the app can provide long term service levels that we are happy with. Our team is hard at work deep within the guts of the machine, working on optimization at many levels. When we say things like "hopefully soon" honestly it is as close to a timeline as we can provide. Any day or week now could provide the breakthrough that solves the bugs we are trying to squash. As soon as we have a fix, we will spend probably a week doing QA and testing internally, before providing it to external testers who are willing to play in our environment. 

Hopefully this helps shed some light on what is happening here. We remain extremely excited about this new development for iOS, and we appreciate the enthusiasm from our community.

- John 
(UX Practitioner: Mobile Team)
(Edited)
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HJ

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This is HUGE!

I am appreciative of the extensive update and disclosure. Really looking forward to the changes.
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aggieben

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Outstanding John, thank you for that transparency.  I do understand that bit about the road ahead being somewhat unpredictable.  As they say, 90% of the effort goes into the last 10% of the project :-)
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John, UX Practitioner

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You really must be a developer, the devs on the team say the exact same thing :p
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Andy Creech

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I am extra specially excited to here that you are so close. This will make the years of using CE and waiting for a better path worth it.
Anxious to beta test and provide bug reports when you are ready!
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aggieben

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John, is the team making progress?
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Jonathan Steele

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With all due respect to the commenters, we are their customers, not their project managers. While I know they appreciate our eagerness, having to deal with constant questions will only slow them down. Instead of working on the app, they are having to stop everything to write responses. Please, let them work.
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John, UX Practitioner

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Hey Guys. 

Looks like a good time for me to jump in here for a quick second. We are firing away on all cylinders on iOS development still. Progress is slow at this point, but steady. Incidentally, if you have ever seen Apollo 13 and can recall the scene about the astronauts making a square filter fit into a round hole, you have a pretty good idea of what our devs are doing from a software perspective =P

As far as this thread (or any like it) are concerned, we totally get that you guys are anxious and excited for us to release this product. Believe me when I say that as soon as there is a testable beta, or significant news, we will  let you know. 

Myself and the others who respond to these threads are generally not tasked with the day to day code work required to get the job done, so responding isn't eating up any speed on the development front. The truth is however that my answer is likely to remain "soon but no real idea when" up until the very day that we actually have a product to deliver. So if you don't mind getting that same answer every once in a while, feel free to keep the conversation going here. =)

Thanks for your passion and support. All of us on the team feel it.

- John
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Mike

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John thanks man!  I really do appreciate you all.  Since my main tool is a traditional computer I am (and have always been) a very satisfied CE customer.  We also know that a lot of these limitations are not your fault at all!  No doubt you all are doing your best with a hamstrung tool offered by Apple.  I do have a question this thread brought to mind.  Though I love Apple, my whole family (all six of us) use Apple products, it seems that this platform will continually be a long uphill battle.  I just watched an iOS 10 preview video and noticed that a gif/image browser will be built into the message app.  Honestly, would it be better to switch to Android?  I don't want to at all!  I also want to be as spiritually responsible as possible with my family.  I would choose accountability over convenience and preferences.  What do you think?  With accountability being more important to me than an operating system is Android a better way to go? 
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Kevin

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Mike, appreciate your comments. First off all I want to echo you comments in thanking John and all the others on staff at Covenant Eyes. You guys provide a service that is so valuable to me and so many others! I know it's a monumental task to try to close all vulnerabities on internet connected devices and you guys at Covenant Eyes do a great job. Truly the only foolproof way to stay safe on your phone is to have a phone with no access to apps or the internet. But I want a smartphone, and I would like to have access to as many of the features that a smartphone offers as I can safely have. That's the problem Covenant Eyes is trying to fix by developing a new iOS app. I have long experience using CE on both android and iOS and iOS is definitely safer - even the way it currently is. You just have to be very systematic in how you restrict it (I can go into more detail on how if you want to know). I too am concerned about the possibility of an image/gif search function being added to the Messages app in iOS 10. My strong recommendation is this - tell your accountability partner about this concern immediately so they can hold you accountable to not upgrading, then get someone you trust to vet iOS 10's capabilities before you get it yourself! That's what I'm planning to do.
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Brian

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Kevin,
Would you mind sharing with me how you locked your phone down and have limited all access. Please email me at bbush.bkb@gmail.com.
Thanks,
Brian
(Edited)
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Mike

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No problem. 
I believe I can safely do this on here. Who knows, maybe it will be helpful for others?  Know up front it cripples the device.

First, follow CE's advice for setting up IOS.  Set up restrictions, close the app store, don't use apps with built in browsers etc.  However, you will need to be with the person who knows the passcode to get into restrictions.  You will drive them nuts for about 20 minutes. 

Second, Dealing with system access to the internet (setting up accounts etc.) and apps you really want to use that have built in web access through help pages etc. 
  • I followed the links in the apps that led to a help page, terms of service, etc. 
  • Copied the text from the page.  (Highlight everything you can and copy it.)
  • Pasted it in a search engine in a real browser to find where the terms of service or help site was located on the internet. 
  • Than I copied that specific web address to the "block websites" section under restrictions in iOS and blocked that specific page.
  • When the process is finished you should be able to go into the app and click on the link that brought up an internal browser to take you to a help page or terms of service and if all went well.... it's blocked.  This doesn't work on all apps, but it did give my sons and I access to more apps than we had before. 
A few things to note:
  • Some apps have so many external links it's not worth it.
  • Some apps have actual browsers (you can type in a web address) not just a window to a help page \.  You still can't use those apps. I found a solution to those, but nobody in my family likes it! ;)
  • Once you set this up you'll find that you restrict domains that you wish you had access to like accounts.google.com.  It's a pain, but it will make the device safe. Or at least much safer. 
  • IOS 10 may break this with a search engine built into the keyboard.  I don't know yet.  I actually didn't download the iOS beta this time around. Usually I do.  
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Andy Creech

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Was curious if the Apple WWDC iOS 10 first beta and host of new APIs will change the course of the project at all? Really excited to be able to use device wife accountability in the future. Keep up the good work!
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Llewellyn Martin

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I was curious too how IOS 10 will affect this. 
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aggieben

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John, is there any new info on the Safari Extension front?
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John, UX Practitioner

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Hey Aggieben,

I wrote the first draft of a public beta email invitation yesterday, which outlines the work we have been doing and sets expectations for what beta testers will experience. On the development side we have successfully shipped internal alpha versions through Apple's testflight channel and are now positioning ourselves for external testers. 

That being said, our main back end guy has been deep in the guts of the extension, reworking to bypass some persistent issues that lay with Apple's code. Last I heard things were getting very close (and we are likely going to start rolling out test versions to external testers sooner than later regardless)

So yeah, progress for sure. I know I have been saying this for forever, but stay tuned. =)
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Mike

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Cool! We believe in the mission and will gladly help work the bugs out of a beta.
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Llewellyn Martin

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Can't wait to try it out! 
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Andy Creech

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Agreed, eager to test and provide feedback. I am beta testing iOS 10 and interested in how it works with some of the new features there.
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Kevin

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For anyone who is interested, below is a link to a guide for how I locked down my iPhone.  After reading this, please let me know if I can help you in any other way.  You have to sacrifice using almost all apps, but it’s worth it to stay pure!

https://www.dropbox.com/s/iafz4dijoug1opw/How%20I%20locked%20down%20my%20phone.pdf?dl=0
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Chance

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Just curious, if you can say, will this new solution use a VPN?
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John, UX Practitioner

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Hey Guys, 

There were some great questions here and let's see if I can answer them in order:

@aggieben Truth is, it was always both. We're being a little tight lipped here because this is pretty new stuff and we don't want to show our hand too early. The extension is still a crucial piece of the technology and together with a VPN like piece of technology we can build what is essentially an extension cord for our existing Covenant Eyes services.  The idea is to allow us to now reach deeper into the the device than has ever been possible before. 

@chance All of our initial tests show that the new app *should* work fine on iOS 10. There should be no real reason to need a downgrade.

@lucas The beta is now in *very limited* testing with some friends and family (of employees) before it goes into its first public phase. The official external beta should be launching in the next couple weeks. I am personally working to make sure that the people who have been engaging with us here will be included in the first official test. I would recommend you wait and see/hear how the app actually works before making the dive over to iOS fully, and it shouldn't be long now before you get that chance to find out. 

Thanks everyone for your patience and continued interest/questions

Let me know if I can help with anything else.

- John

*Edited typos
(Edited)
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danbru1989

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Thanks for the update!
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Cr@ig

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Thanks for keeping us in the loop.  I'd love to help with any beta testing.

Craig
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C.J.

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I'm glad to hear all of this. I switched to Android because of the deeper integration of accountability monitoring. My wife, however, is not in love with it. When this new iOS solution is live, it will at least open our options back up.

You guys are awesome!
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Lucas

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Any updates on this John? Getting any closer to releasing the app? I really would like to move to iOS if it's close.
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Mike

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Any new news? You have some anxious nerds ready to work a beta out! ;) Me being one of them obviously.
(Edited)
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Ryan Sherrett, Official Rep

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Hey everyone,

Rest assured, we're as anxious for this solution as everyone else.  This really is a bleeding edge sort of stuff and even Apple has had some issues with it (we've reported and they've resolved at least one significant bug in their network extension as a result of our work thus far).  As such, as we climb this mountain and reach what we think is the peak, we get excited only to find out that it was not, in fact, the peak.  Ideally, we could reach "A peak" that would allow us to release it to people while we continue to climb.  That has not been the case, however.  

We already have a large pool of beta testers ready and (thankfully) patiently waiting.  Having too many testers too early can be problematic, so for now we're not adding more.  As things get more stable, and the problems with it exist closer to the edges, we'll add more in order to find those out. 

As John as said in the past, I do feel bad about giving an update that simply says, "We're still working on it.  Stay tuned...I'll be awesome!", but it has been a while since anyone chimed in and I don't want to just leave this thread quiet either.  So, I'll simply say, we're still working on it.  Stay tuned...It'll be awesome!

Thank you all for your passion.  It's what makes this work such a joy to be a part of, even if the tech landscape can be frustrating.

-Ryan
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Mike

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Thanks Ryan. I appreciate the open communication. We really do appreciate you all.
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gfbane

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It looks like it's been 4 months since the last update, any new news you can share?
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Annelise, Official Rep

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Hello gfbane,

Thank you for your post. We are definitely closer to the finish line than we were four months ago. We still have a group of closed beta testers using our app and providing feedback about any issues or bugs. Our developers are hoping to have our new app for iOS available soon! We shy away from giving any specific dates or timelines because if something goes amiss we'd be faced with disappointing or angering our users when the date we gave them has to be pushed back. 

I can tell you we've made great strides in the last few months and our developers have made this a top priority and hope to have something available for you soon.

Thank you for following up with us and for your patience. We really hope to be able to offer something that is pretty awesome for our iOS users!

Best regards,
Annelise
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gfbane

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I work in software consulting and am familiar with the concept of setting, meeting and sometimes missing expectations. I recently read "Masters of Doom" where this concept was illustrated over and over in the delays seen with the various games and the unforeseen challenges. You don't know the problems you'll need to solve until you solve the next set of problems.

Patience is a practice. Thank you and the entire team for the on-going effort to provide tools to help Christians and families protect their integrity.

Keep on, keepin' on.
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HJ

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Bump!
Some radio silence for some while, but I was wondering if there were any updates.
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Ryan Sherrett, Official Rep

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Hello HJ and others,

I do apologize for the dead air on news about this release.  Admittedly, I haven't been keeping you guys up to date as much as I should have been.  Unfortunately, the news isn't much different than the last time.  This is an open forum (i.e. you don't have to be a CE user to read and contribute here), but I will be as candid as I can without giving away any proprietary information and try to shed some light on where we're at with the new app.

Here is the current state of the new app.  We do have a functional app that monitors top domain level network activity across the entire device.  That app is in a fairly small controlled customer beta. We are still working through a couple of nasty issues with the network extension API within iOS that allows us to do that.  This sort of functionality is new, even for Apple, on this platform and has its share of issues.  I'm generally not a fan of passing blame to Apple, Microsoft, or anyone else.  That is a "cop-out", in my opinion.  The reality, though, is that there is a nasty bug in this API that causes it to hang when you change network types (e.g. Cellular Data moving to WiFi, or vice versa).  Obviously, with mobile devices, this sort of change is a fairly regular occurrence.  We are not simply waiting for Apple to fix the issue, but rather are working on ways to work around this problem and maintain a consistent connection within our system.  We have definitely made improvements there, but unfortunately not enough yet that we're ready to give it out to the general customer base.

Another challenge with the "newness" of this is that there just isn't a lot of expertise in the industry to lean on.  We're quite literally navigating uncharted waters.  Therefore, it would be impossible for the captain of this particular ship to give an estimate about when we think we will reach our destination, at least with any confidence.  Unfortunately, this is one of those issues that we'll know what it will take to fix...when we fix it.  I know that information like that is rather anti-climactic. I wish I could give more.

I have been asked about more beta testers as well.  This current issue is pretty universal so more beta testers, at this point, would just be more reports of the same problem.  At this stage, that isn't helpful for anyone, so we aren't adding any more right now.  We really believe that this issue is the last hurdle before a more wide-spread release, but if that turns out not to be true then we'll likely add more testers to dig deeper into whatever new issues come up in the next layer of the onion, so to speak.


Again, I thank you all for your passion and your patience. 

-Ryan
(Edited)
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aggieben

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Ryan, thanks for the update.  I read through the NetworkExtension documentation and watched the WWDC talk from 2015 last night, so I get it.  I also posted a radar bug on NEFilterProvider because IMO it shouldn't be necessary to roll out a custom VPN for what you're trying to do.  Apple's gonna Apple.

Having said that, is there a place for beta testers to engage in a bit more two-way feedback cycles?  So far as I can tell over the last several months is that beta feedback is very one way, and it would be nice if we weren't quite so in the dark about what the team's priorities are and what changes to expect.
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funkydan2

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Does it look like the bug is fixed in iOS 11? I'd like to upgrade my iPad, but hesitant to head in that direction without the accountability of the new app.